Tag Archives: Shirley Allwork

Blissful

HAY FEVER

Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Monday 18th June, 2018

 

Noel Coward’s 1924 play is perhaps best described as a ‘comedy of bad manners’.  Set in the country retreat of the Bliss family, it depicts what transpires one weekend when each member of the family decides to invite a guest to stay.  In terms of plot, that’s about it – the play lacks the depth and development of Coward’s later works, but the beastly behaviour of the Blisses provides such fun, we don’t seem to care about the script’s narrative shortcomings.

Ruling the roost as former actress Judith Bliss is Lesley Wilcox, serving up the ham in hefty slabs – but all without breaking character.  Judith has quit the stage but has never stopped acting; she spends her days in the throes of melodramatic hyperbole.  Wilcox is a monstrous joy to behold.

Following in their mother’s footsteps are waspish daughter Sorel (Zoe Mortimer in fine form) and dapper son Simon, played by Josh Whitehouse-Gardner, who is perfectly cast.  Of all the company, it is he who gives the best clipped, Cowardian delivery.  As the father, David Bliss, Roger Harding warms into the role and is soon hurling himself into histrionics along with the rest of his brood.

The hapless guests include Vivien Tomlinson, good fun as a kind of prototype ‘cougar’ figure, Myra Arundel; Paul Tomlinson as Richard, delivering a nice line in awkwardness; Thomas Hodge flounders around agreeably as nice-but-dim Sandy; while India Willes’s Jackie is a study in social anxiety and shyness.

Judith’s thunder is almost stolen by her maid of all work, Clara, played by Shirley Allwork, in a hilarious piece of character work in perfect contrast with all the posh nobs she has to serve.

Director Colin Lewis Edwards gets the pacing of the rows and arguments spot on, and the funniest scene comes when our hosts attempt to entertain their motley guests with an abortive parlour game.

Special mention must go to Bel Derrington and Graham Robson for their elegantly detailed and substantial set, contained within the confines of the Bear Pit’s intimate performance space.

Coward is a worthy successor to Oscar Wilde and a forerunner of Edward Albee, and this high quality, classy production delivers the goods.  What does the play have to say to us today, 90-odd years since it first appeared?  Perhaps it’s that the ‘elite’ are still riding roughshod over the rest of us, callous and careless in their conceited conduct.  Or perhaps it’s just that impoliteness and rudeness remain terribly funny – as long as someone else is on the receiving end.

SamAllard_TBP_HayFever_Dress_140618_-061

Lesley Wilcox as Judith Bliss (Photo: Sam Allard)

 

Advertisements

Toad Hally Awesome

TOAD OF TOAD HALL

Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Friday 2nd December, 2016

 

A.A. Milne’s stage adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s beloved novel is a classic in its own right, and its brought to charming life here by director Nicky Cox and a talented cast.  The playful staging (umbrellas for wagon wheels, stepladders for trees) sits well in the studio space, while the energised performances of the actors makes the action irresistible.

Natalie Danks-Smith is a likeable Mole, a blinking innocent who finds there’s a world of adventure beyond her front door.  Dominic Skinner’s affable, dapper Ratty represents what is decent in all of us.  Badger (Shirley Allwork) is the voice of experience and authority – the characters each represent an aspect of human nature, it seems.  Toad himself is an irrepressible hedonist, selfishly sweeping everyone else along with his whims and fads, embroiling them in the problems he creates.  Toad is also a supreme manipulator, caring only for his own interests – he is the attractive but negative side of us, all ego and no conscience.  He thinks the law of the land does not apply to him – much like certain members of the ruling class today!

As Toad, David Mears is magnificent.  Repellent and attractive at once, his antics are enjoyable if reprehensible, and Mears’s performance is a masterclass in comic acting.  No detail is overlooked.  Every twitch of an eyelid, every roll of the eyes is calculated to perfection.  Toad almost swamps the stage with his personality but Allwork’s Badger provides a well-tuned counterpoint, and an equally rounded if contrasting characterisation.  It is a treat to see these two working together.

Tony Homer’s Chief Weasel is an imposing figure, dressed like a sinister doorman – he and the Wild Wooders are clearly of a lower class to the protagonists and therefore undesirables.  This is class war of a kind the Tories still propagate to this day: the lower classes are scavengers, liars and criminals – the very transgressions of which they themselves are all too guilty!  But, leaving Marx behind for a bit, Homer is rather scary at first before mellowing into a figure of fun, in the court scene and so on.  The overthrow of the weaselly squatters puts them back in their place in the societal pecking order, revolution has been averted and the status quo is restored and celebrated, while Toad gets away with escaping from prison…

There is sterling support from Charlotte Froud as a sardonic horse, Philip Hickson as a blustering judge, David Southeard as an affronted policeman, but all players work with commitment and focus, be they providing the walls of a secret tunnel or nattering away as members of the jury.  Pamela Hickson gives a delightful cameo as an exuberant washerwoman.

Songs are performed a capella – the ‘Down With Toad’ by Chief Weasel and his confederates is especially effective.  It all adds up to an enjoyable evening (my political reservations aside!) excellently presented and reinforcing the Bear Pit’s reputation for the high quality of its productions.

toad-page-image